Perhaps the best part of my special Saturday evening was not knowing I was going to the wonderful country church supper and suddenly finding myself there. Invited along by my sister-in-law and her friends I was included at the last minute. Unfortunately another,who held the ticket for the annual event had taken ill. Fortunately for me I was the one generously called as a stand in. With the most perfect late summer weather, a beautiful family farm setting, no mosquitoes, excellent food, great music and friendly company it was an unexpected treat.
The event at the McGugan Farm was a Pork and Corn Roast sponsored by North Caradoc St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. The setting (Strathroy, Ontario) was like something from a picture on a Canadian Country Calendar. Beautiful countryside, country road, huge shady trees, towering cornfields, lovely well kept heritage family farm, wide expanse of lush green lawn and a big drive shed set up for a feast. An estimated gathering of almost three hundred people gathered together to enjoy this home-style supper. Very good music filled the air. It was the right kind of music, the kind that told a story and made you think back. One or two of the songs really got to me and that is why I think I was inspired to write this post on my blog. However, it was more likely the combination of all the elements I’ve mentioned that just seemed to be special and when I am moved this way, I write.
While thoroughly enjoying the tasty food, people watching, listening to music I constantly had the feeling that this was indeed something to share on my blog. After all, someone had shared with me so I could be there. Just being in the moment. Pies and butter tarts, homemade, ice cream on the side stretched out on a long table. Little kids, adorable, with families gathered. A hay wagon, tempting platform for the little ones to climb on. Lawn chairs in the shade. Tables set up in the drive shed. Food in bowls, platters, some nestled in icy buckets. Hot food, baked potatoes, beans, pork roast and corn on the cob and cold chilled salads.
Help yourself style with many helping their elders and their youngsters. The farm host, mingling and carrying a basket of raffle tickets, listening to my request to write about the supper. Buttertarts, like the wonderful buttertarts I shared with some folks there may have spurred me on as well. A wonderful country church supper all around and it was just what I needed. (Oh, and the peach pie… I can’t forget the peach pie. Yes, I had both.)
Filed under family relationships, food, friends, health and wellness, history, inspiration, motivation, retirement, storytelling, weather, writing
At about 9am yesterday morning I bought some wild black raspberries at our tiny farmer’s market. Gladly I paid three dollars for the large container. I know the young person selling the berries and I know she found them growing wild in this immediate area. As soon as I saw the berries I immediately thought of my mom and her berry picking excursions that usually included me very much against my will. At this point I started telling the group of neighbours gathered at the teeny market about some of the very close to the surface memories of my mom. They suggested I write about these preserved thoughts and as I have had a patch of dried up and fruitless writing lately I turned on the computer .I picked my usual late hours to produce this mixture of plucked recollections, revised a few words here and there and went by my old recipe of writing from the heart.
Throughout her youth, maturity and old age my mom was in tune with the seasons and made the very most of every available harvest. Berry picking was one of the most tedious things I could think of doing as I was not as motivated as she was by the hard work, strain, heat, exhaustion and endless boxes of berries from our own patch or from other commercial sources. I would rather read, act out stories, play with our puppies and daydream.
Despite this attitude I continued as the many years went by to suggest to mom that if she would like to go berry picking I would go along or drive her to a local “upick” place as I knew it would be fun for her. Once we were driven by a farmer to the very back of a huge field and dropped off for the day so she could pick to her heart’s content. She was well over ninety years old, decked out in shorts and long sleeved shirt with a berry pail attached to her waist with a belt and jauntily wearing a sun hat and her favourite white nurse’s shoes and ankle socks. She was pretty impressive and caught the attention of several younger pickers working their way down the enormous patch. When she saw student pickers taking a break and resting she gave them a piece of her mind and told them they better get busy picking berries if they wanted to make any money. My job was to run the boxes of berries she picked to the end of the rows so they could be gathered up at the end of the day’s pickathon.That day my legs ached and I sweltered in the heat in total sympathy with the student pickers but she seemed content and very proud indeed of her huge harvest. We drove around later to show the relatives what she had picked like it was some kind of athletic achievement to have the entire car full of stacked flats of berries !
Another time at another upick farm and she was in awe of the size of the operation. It was almost impossible to get her to leave the place. She seemed to feel it was her responsibility to pick over the already picked rows to glean the berries missed by others. I pointed out that other rows were untouched and just hanging with ripe fruit but she was determined to give these so called picked rows another going over just for the challenge of finding berries other people, unskilled in extreme berrypicking missed entirely. She stood by our car finally with all the berries we picked and was a bit miffed at having to pay the required full price by the owner.She had a point. These berries were the ones left by others, under the leaves and close to the ground. They had been picked and salvaged, saved from waste by her expertise. These berries had been given the treatment her own berry patch was used to, a thorough going over, a picked patch, a job well done.
Again I was glad to finally get her out of there and home for supper. After eating a warmed up dinner of leftovers and several cups of strong tea and a soup bowl of fresh berries with sugar and milk we would face the cleaning and snuffing of the berries. I would sometimes help for a short time and then beg off to go home with excuses of lesson planning or childcare responsibilities. Mom would spend hours cleaning, snuffing, preserving and freezing the fruit, well into the night and totally pleased with her product. These berries made their way into pies and jam for the family and anyone else who would drop in for a visit.
The work she loved on the farm was like this every single day. Involved, committed, determined it was like an industrial project yet fuelled by her love of nature, gardening, farming and family. There were many such excursions and many similar experiences with home-grown fruit and vegetables . All of them are ripe memories just bursting forth at the moment, poised and ready to be simply touched, held and admired for what they are worth. They are inspired by the one box of wild black raspberries gleaned in the bushes and brambles by my young neighbour, undaunted by mosquitoes and the heat. I think I got a deal.
Filed under books, cooking, family relationships, food, friends, gardening, health and wellness, history, humour, inspiration, motivation, pets, retirement, routines, storytelling
Soapsuds past my elbows as I plunged into the freestanding metal wash tub, I felt worthy of the status of a church lady despite the fact I was barely seven years of age. On each side of me at my workstation on the wooden table were more basins of hot water to dip and rinse the dishes as I did my best to keep up with the circle of older ladies drying dishes as fast as possible. Proudly contributing my youthful enthusiasm I worked at the dishwashing as long as my services were needed. Sometimes I was enlisted on other more pressing tasks such as running upstairs to the church sanctuary with messages for the elders pinned to my chest or collecting dirty dishes from my sister and sister-in-law ordering me around as they prepared available seatings for more guests at their assigned table.
The rural church kitchen had no modern features that I recall except an ancient stove of some kind and a deep laundry type sink with a tap. There was a hand pump on one side of the drain board I think but my memory is foggy on that. I don’t recall a refrigerator either. If there was one it was non-descript. Tall wooden cupboards to the ceiling held a large collection of old thin white china with a plain rim of burnished silver and another smaller collection of light green fiesta ware cups and saucers. As the dirty dishes came in through the swinging kitchen doors they were scraped quickly and plunged into the soapy water for a quick turn around use as they were needed for the next seating of people coming down the two sets of stairs leading from the upper sanctuary. I remember coleslaw swimming aound on top of the dishwater until one of the ladies would dump it out in the big sink and refresh it with clean hot water from the giant kettles steaming away at the back of the stove.
The experienced, talented younger ladies were involved in rolling out the white paper to cover the long tables and resetting the dinnerware and silverware ( as we called it). Once presentable, the men organizing the seating of our guests would announce that those seated in certain pews in the sanctuary were to take their turn for the meal while others would have to wait until a table was ready. It was a whirlwind of activity, friendly folks and wonderful turkey dinner smells. It went on for hours because we fed the community at large and I thought it was the most fun, ever to have at church.
The food was prepared at home on the farm and brought in to serve the huge turnout. Some local ladies were entrusted with the roasting of turkeys and their husbands roared home to collect the birds from warm ovens when supplies ran low. Canning kettles of mashed potatoes and turnip were kept hot on the feeble old stove while extra huge kettles were kept handy, close by at someone’s local home. Bins of homemade coleslaw marinated safely in vinegar ready for quick dishing up and served in a variety of bowls along with the potatoes and turnip. Homemade applesauce and pickles rounded out the meal along with stuffing and gravy.
Along a wall in the Sunday school were specially built shelves that held all the pies. Needless to say, they were also all homemade. There were mostly apple ,pumpkin,cherry, elderberry and raisin pies but some ladies would bring in show stopping lemon pies heaped with swirls of meringue. Coffee was made by my mom in a huge copper laundry boiler where the grounds boiled with salt and eggshells. Along with all the other tasks involved with the big supper her special job was to make the coffee for the crowd. I think she was the only one who could get tanks of it just right so it became her special job. Dippers of this strong brew were ladled into white metal coffeepots for the ladies to serve coffee along the rows of tables.
When the last guest had been served and sent again on their way home, the kitchen staff, servers and all the male helpers sat down to share the leftovers and rest weary legs. Every year, for a long time before and a long time after, these fowl suppers were a special event in my young life and represented to me what a church community did. They worked hard, did their best, encouraged each other and had fun whenever they could sharing their traditions and faith in a down to earth way. I am thankful for the memories and yes, we really did call them…Fowl Suppers!
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!